Its part of a police dogs remit to be able to chase and detain a fleeing suspect. The dog doesn’t make the decision who to pursue, that’s the task of the handler. But once released the dog is very much on its own and the outcome far from certain. This is especially so with young inexperienced dogs. We learn what one police dog school is doing to help its canine students bridge that gap between training and the realities of the street.
3 Steps – The bridge to Bitework
For anyone training a dog to bite there are many considerations. Jump forward to your dog being almost at the end of its training. Where your dog understands the bite command. You have worked on and perfected the ‘out’. (Please share how you achieved that) Your dog will bite all the sleeves you need it to bite and can perform in any location and any circumstances. But, for those of you training for law enforcement, military applications or personal protection there is one last hurdle. It is the hurdle that is sometimes so insurmountable that your dog doesn’t actually do it. The live bite, the real bite – no sleeve. Whilst there can be other reasons such as environmental, confusion or other differences between training and real life, there is also the very, very obvious lack of a sleeve. The thing the dog has been taught to bite!! What can you do?
From assessing a dogs’ suitability for the chosen role to the training route you will take. What equipment you will need, what your rules of engagement are, who you have available to help or your time scale. These are all considerations that warrant an article or even a book on their own but they are not what I am talking about today.
Whilst true some dogs are just so fast that they are likely to bite before even considering what they are biting or are so confident they never really cared about the sleeve anyway. The majority of dogs don’t appear in either of these groups.
My route to biting, starting with puppies usually goes along the lines of towels, small tuggers, bite pillows, soft sleeve, hard sleeve, bite jacket. Yes I am working on the dogs attitude and yes I make sure they are interested in the man not just the equipment but I also know that dogs are incredibly smart and they are under no illusion that the sleeve is part of the equation. So I try as best I can to help them over the gap between sleeves and their first real bite. This is what I call the ‘Bridge to Bite-work’.
Others may have a different method, if it works better than this then I may steal it, no, borrow it. But this is how I attempt to ‘bridge’ that gap using a muzzle. I don’t do this with weak biting dogs or use this as a method to improve motivation or to cause frustration. I am merely trying to overcome the equipment issue and let the dog know that it is ok to bite for real and to convince myself the dog is street ready.
Before using a muzzle as a step towards the real bite the dog must first be conditioned to wearing a muzzle so prior planning is required. It is worth taking your time with this process because if the dog is uncomfortable wearing the muzzle it will detract from the job.
Make a good association by giving food for touching the muzzle and then for allowing it to be placed on the dogs nose. Let the dog eat a few bits of food from inside the muzzle before attempting to do the muzzle up. Put it on and immediately take it off, build up slowly. If the dog is scratching to get it off you have gone too fast.
Take days rather than minutes. Next the dog must get used to wearing the muzzle for longer periods and to do other exercises in. Go for a walk, do heel work, property search etc.
DO NOT ONLY WEAR A MUZZLE FOR BITEWORK.
When the dog is enthused, capable of normal routine biting and has a reliable, motivated ‘out’ I am ready for the next step. I first introduce the dog to what will be my covert sleeve. Not covered at this stage. An overt covert! The dog has to bite this sleeve as determined as everything else because this is going to be his first step with no visual sleeve. If he doesn’t like or cannot bite this sleeve it will transfer into the covert bite and work against our goal and not make it more likely.
Once I am happy he will bite this sleeve we are ready for the first covert bite. I prefer to do this on a line so I can control the angle of the dogs attack and stop him getting a visual on the sleeved arm. I find it is very difficult to fool dogs. Whether a front attack or run-off, have the dog approach from the un-sleeved arm and leave it as late as you dare to turn so the dog gets the sleeve. (Get this wrong and you could have your first real bite, good news though, you can skip the next step). Praise the dog and let him enjoy the bite make it a good experience.
Assuming all’s gone well then I would try a few other scenarios just to consolidate. Don’t get your helper to go super crazy or introduce weird events during this exercise though. Repeat too much and the dog is sure to work out you are wearing a sleeve and the surprise is lost. It is also worth noting that I don’t use covert sleeves on helpers in search exercises for the same reason. You can proof the dog in the search in other ways.
When the dog is comfortable wearing a muzzle to do other jobs AND has successfully made several covert bites you are ready for your first muzzle bite. You must make a choice here. The first bite should be set up in a way that is well within your dog’s comfort zone not some new crazy scenario set-up to test the dog’s mettle. (that can come later). This is about making sure the dog isn’t relying on there being a sleeve to make a bite.
You can either have the dog make his first muzzle bite on a helper wearing a bite suit or on naked arms? You can make a good argument for doing it either way and I have done both with no noticeable difference. At this stage I am drawn to going naked as this is ultimately what I am working on and I feel that you have a very small window before the dog works out that he can’t actually bite in a muzzle. Equally if the first bite is on equipment which the dog is familiar with then if something goes wrong you haven’t tarnished your first sleeveless bite with some technical issue caused by the muzzle. It’s your call.
With all things being equal and your dog is in the right frame of mind prior to being sent on this first muzzle bite and the scenario looks the same as it does in other training and the helper acts the same. When the dog is sent he should be intending to bite. When he hits the helper, the helper can even act as if he has been bitten and you should be able to conclude between yourself and the helper whether that would have been a real bite. Again, this is an exercise that I prefer to do on a line so that after the dog hits the target I can restrain rather than the dog have a chance to experiment and discover his inability to bite lies in the muzzle.
I again would only do a few attacks at most, in differing scenarios just to consolidate but not enough that you start to lose the surprise factor.
I then prefer to save the muzzle work for scenarios that can be performed safely without equipment rather than go down the road of repeated muzzle bites, muzzle fighting etc. With a mature dog that I know bites, the muzzle can be a great way of doing safe scenario training without having to rely on bite jackets giving a clue that it’s training not real life.
There are other ways of using the muzzle and it is about finding a way that works for you and your goals. Of course that leads on to a whole new article about which muzzle is best for the job!
by Guy Williams, Instructor at Avon and Somerset Police.